Friday 26 April 2019

Roy: the discreet object of our desire

Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

THE enigmatic half smirk on Roy Keane's face as he walked in to his confessional last Tuesday said it all. To Cork people at least. For some, he may have looked like a Lee-side Mona Lisa, an imponderable, one of the great mysteries that will baffle experts in years to come. But to Cork people it was all too obvious what the smirk, which bordered between amusement and bemusemen

THE enigmatic half smirk on Roy Keane's face as he walked in to his confessional last Tuesday said it all. To Cork people at least. For some, he may have looked like a Lee-side Mona Lisa, an imponderable, one of the great mysteries that will baffle experts in years to come. But to Cork people it was all too obvious what the smirk, which bordered between amusement and bemusement, was about. Ever got the feeling you've been had?

And then this 35-year-old, the epitome of Cork cool, the personification of a power that can only really be understood by other Cork people, revealed the elaborate wind-up that has been Roy Keane's tenure in the public eye to date. The slightly disbelieving grin said enough. It said: "Here you all are again, hanging on my every word. I deserted ye but all I needed to do was snap my fingers and ye come crawling back. Not just the muppets from the press, but that muppet Quinn too. Look at ye, ye dopes."

And then he spoke and there could be no doubt.

The malicious wind-up is a cornerstone of Cork humour. Cork people have a slightly evil, almost vicious, sense of humour. Cork humour revels in misfortune, in pratfalls, in people making eejits of themselves. In Cork, there truly is humour in tragedy.

And central to it all is wind-up, making a langer out of people, to use that now unfortunate word that can still only be used correctly and said correctly by Cork people, even though the rest of the country has taken to it with gusto, embarrassing themselves like white people trying to talk black slang to be "street". Forgetting that Cork people are the only truly "street" people in Ireland.

The details of the wind-up emerged almost casually. Without seeming to mean it, but of course knowing exactly what he was doing, Keane reminded anyone who might have forgotten that he has a sense of humour, and more importantly, that he doesn't take himself too seriously, which would be a cardinal sin for a Cork person, and something that could set you up for being wound up, or made a langer of, yourself.

So, he talked about how hectic it's been since he came home from a villa to take the Sunderland job after Quinn rang him (note that Quinn rang Keane: that's crucial, Quinn chased Keane; Keane's taking the job because he thought, "Why not?" He's not too pushed.)

"It's been so hectic," he says, "I got back from holiday on Saturday, met the players on Sunday, came to the game on Monday afternoon and the Middlesborough match on Monday night." And then, lest he be taking himself too seriously, or whingeing, another capital sin in Cork, he pricks his own self-importance with, "Will I get home in time for Love Island?"

He went on to say that he asked his kids if he should take the job and they thought he should because he likes bossing people around. It's child's play. There's Quinn, desperate, and Roy is toying with him, asking his young children if he should take the job or not. He doesn't need the job but he takes it on a whim.

Credentials as a man with a sense of humour and some objectivity about himself, a sense of the ridiculousness of it all, are now in place. But the main job, that of subtly explaining the wind-up, and of how he made langers out of the press, out of English people, out of Dunphy and out of everyone who isn't from Cork was next. Keane then set about distancing himself from the myth of Roy Keane the player and of casually gaining redemption for former transgressions with a few casual near-apologies.

The distancing: "It was like an acting role. I used to feel that even when I drove up to Old Trafford I turned into this mad machine and that was the way I felt. Going to work was like going to war, then when you get home you're a different person."

In other words: I was just playing a part. I know ye all got very excited about it and all but I was just going to work and it wasn't the real me and when I got home I was a regular guy. In other words: I didn't really mean it, but I had ye all going, didn't I? I split the country in two at times but Jesus ye all took it a bit seriously at times, didn't ye? Chill out a bit, people.

And then the really telling bit: "Maybe that was part of the picture I had to paint for the opposition. You can play with people's minds and that was part of my game."

In other words it was all just an image, it was headf**king, a wind-up, with a classic Cork wind-up merchant at the centre of it all earning shed-loads of money and going home to the family having a good laugh at the madness that surrounded it all.

And the beauty of it all is that everyone fell for the Roy Keane myth. In fact, lots of people probably still think that psycho Roy Keane was for real and that he's just making excuses now for the way he embarrassed himself by getting a bit too intense (another cardinal sin in Cork). But who really knows what's real? Now that we've been fooled once how do we really know that this new Roy Keane is for real either? Is this another gigantic Cork wind-up? Has he really learned to respect Quinn, to realise that he was a bit of a "psycho", to use his own word, before?

Is he really this new wise, mature character who looks back on his younger, more intemperate self with a kind of indulgent pity and a laugh?

Who knows? Only Keane really knows. Only Keane knows what the tactics are this time, what head games are required in his new role.

But we'll enjoy it. Cork people will particularly enjoy it because Cork people have been in on the joke all the time. While Dublin people were getting hot under the collar about Saipan and falling out with their best friends over it and likening it to a civil war, Cork people were mainly going through the motions, pretend fighting for the hell of it but really using it as just another thing to have a laugh about.

Because Cork people aren't blinded by the same ambition that Dublin people are. Cork people can see how a guy who almost casually reached the heights Keane did by virtue of a God-given talent, could choose to have some fun with that position and cause a bit of trouble with it.

Cork people understand too that appearances are important. Cork people don't go out to the shop in their pyjamas. In Cork, old ladies who are going into town to get bread and milk dress up to the nines, get their hair done and are fully made up. That's just the way they are down there.

Appearance is everything to Cork people because it helps you fool everyone and create your own reality. And Cork people are all about fooling the world and having a nice little chuckle about it, feeling that you've got one over on everyone.

But of course it's no good getting one over on everyone unless you let them know you've done it. What's the point of making langers out of those fools in the Dublin media and those dumb Brits unless you get the payoff.

Keane still needs his victims so he couldn't really rub their noses in it too much. Instead, he satisfied himself with a wry grin for the crowd back home and an air of "I don't know what ye all got so excited about it. Sure I didn't mean it at all."

So: a sense of humour, the power to make your enemies come crawling back looking for you. The Olympian attitude that allows you toforgive them on yourterms and that allows youto take their masses of money again, and the ability todo it all with a knowing smirk. And, most importantly, the ability to mess with everyone's heads as regards reality versus appearance, to keep everyone guessing.

No question about it, Roy Keane is the coolest man alive right now, maybe.

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